A Historian’s Perspective - Hamilton’s America2018-04-24
Currently in its premier Salt Lake City engagement, “Hamilton: An American Musical” is on stage now through May 6, 2018, in the new Eccles Theater.
When asked about the ever-popular “Hamilton,” Dr. Michelle Orihel, Associate Professor of History at Southern Utah University, reminds us that it is not a work of history, but instead, a work of historical imagination.
“Works of history are deeply researched with conclusions and arguments that are supported by ample evidence. That’s the kind of history that I write and love, and it’s vital that we teach in our schools. ‘Hamilton’ is not that kind of history. Instead, it’s a work of the historical imagination that takes history for its inspiration and draws from it a setting, plot, and characters.”
The Founders are presented both as the all-knowing, wise men who had the solution to every problem, now and then, and dead white men who lived a long time ago, with nothing to say to 21st century Americans. We struggle to relate to them.
“We think we know their story but we don’t. This is why history in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’ seems so new. In the musical, history is in the moment, raw and uncertain. History seems to be told in our time like it could be happening today. There are arguments, rivalries, jealousies, challenges, and struggles. Miranda so effectively and movingly captures these moments of struggle and doubt in the musical.”
Dr. Orihel believes that the tendency to memorialize the Founders makes us take history for granted. It doesn’t motivate us to study the complexities and nuances of the era.
“If we think of the Founders as unchanging monuments, there’s not much else to know about them. When we place the Founders in their proper historical context, an incredibly dynamic time, they seem like subjects worthy of our study. Their world, which previously seemed dusty, antiquated, becomes a world in motion, a world of struggle, experiment, and argument in which the outcome is not clear at all.”
“I’d like to challenge all fans of ‘Hamilton’ to take your passion for this musical one step further and become engaged in the history of the American Revolution and the Early Republic."
Dr. Orihel brings her research on politics and print culture into the classroom using contemporary popular culture. This past year she taught Jumpstart: Stage and Screen, sharing the American Revolution through discussions of the musical and Hamilton's own writings.